UPDATED with more executive commentary. AT&T has scheduled its big reveal of HBO Max details — presumably covering pricing, subscription features and product demos — for the afternoon of October 29 on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.
CEO Randall Stephenson also said live sports and news will be elements in the streaming service. Turner Sports has carried NBA games as well as Major League Baseball, NCAA basketball and PGA golf.
“This won’t be at the early stages of HBO Max, but you should assume that ultimately HBO Max will have live elements,” he said, promising additional details at the October event.
The telecom giant addressed streaming in limited doses during a conference call with analysts to discuss its solid second-quarter financial results.
The October 29 date will be circled in red by investors and the media business, given the intense curiosity about HBO Max to this point. Before the acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T, which closed in June 2018, HBO had long sought to assert its place in the streaming ecosystem. It debuted stand-alone streaming service HBO Now in 2015 and accumulated more than 8 million subscribers in the four years since.
In part as a concession to pay-TV operators that spent decades building subscribers for the premium network through the traditional bundle, the streaming price point was held at $15 a month, higher than most Netflix subscriptions and well above other popular services. Company observers have therefore are watching the pricing strategy of HBO Max closely. In teasing their plans in recent months, executives say the offering will roll together the prestige programming of HBO with top-shelf offerings from Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies and a host of other brands. (In other words, you will get what you pay for.) An ad-supported version of HBO Max has also been promised.
The investor day will come about two weeks before the debut of Disney+, which was rolled out for Wall Street at a substantive event last April, also in Burbank. Disney+ will cost $7 a month. Apple is also expected to be out with its entrant into the streaming wars, Apple TV+, in the fall. NBCUniversal is readying a major contender of its own for a mid-2020 launch, though it is ad-supported rather than subscription.
WarnerMedia has undertaken a significant restructuring ahead of the arrival of HBO Max, and the service factors significantly into AT&T’s ongoing efforts to wring profit from its $81 billion acquisition of Time Warner. Bob Greenblatt, the former head of NBCUniversal’s entertainment operations, came aboard at WarnerMedia as entertainment chairman earlier this year and is overseeing the streaming service. Kevin Reilly oversees content for HBO Max.
Stephenson said HBO Now saw “a lot” of new subscribers in the second quarter due to Game of Thrones, but AT&T did not break out figures. At the October investor day, the CEO added, there would be more “visibility” on subscriber trends.
“Until we kind of know what the churn characteristics of a product like this looks like, we’re going to be a little guarded about giving subscribers,” he said. “But here’s what we know: Dish stopped carrying HBO [in October 2018] and year-over-year we’re actually up in subscribers. That tells you how strong the digital subscriber performance of this thing was.”
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